The List – Episode 8: The Gauntlet

Thousands of camera drones burst with light, imprinting white spots on top of my vision as I stepped up onto the stage.  Somewhere in the distance, a crowd cheered.

“Tell us, how long have you been training for The Gauntlet?” The field announcer, a small woman dressed in an outfit that was almost as ridiculous as my own, asked with a little too much enthusiasm.

I could see myself on the dozens of holo screens that filled the dome arena.  The camera panned out, showing me in my helmet, sculpted chest plate, the whole get up, and I wanted to vomit.  I smiled anyways as I answered the question.

“It’s been a dream of mine all my life, and I’ve spent the last few years working to get to this point.”

“With a little effort and a lot of luck, maybe your dreams will come true.  How about you, viewers?  What do you think?”

A mug shot of my mask face appeared up on the holos.  Under it, scores totaled up in the millions as viewers from thousands of miles inputted their votes.  The buzzer rang and the numbers froze.  There was a decent amount in my favor.  Whether they wanted to admit it or not, the audience knew what they wanted.

“Looks like the viewers want you to win as well!” the announcer said, and then moved on to the next contestant, some middle class guy that said he wanted to impress his son.  He was currently a firefighter, but wanted to take the step up to be a “real” hero, he was saying.  His type was the kind commonly attracted to The Gauntlet, and was the fodder the producers relied on to humiliate for the world’s amusement and high ratings.

I ignored the festivities and focused on the platform that rose up on the opposite end of the stadium.  I let the meaningless drivel between the announcer and contestants fade into the background and sized up my real competition.  The platform was lined on both sides by well muscled athletes, but they were just chumps out of their league compared to who I was after.  In the middle of the minor leaguers stood the three men I couldn’t wait to check off of my list.

The one on the left, Grand Slam, stood at attention while his hands rested on the large club that hid a cache of mini-missles.  The name and weapon were appropriate, seeing as how he held the world record of four-hundred and twenty-eight homeruns in one season.  Funny enough, investigations into illegal performance enhancing drugs and augments had stopped after the authorities received a large sum of money made by an anonymous donor.

The one on the right, Pommel, constantly flexed the muscles on each of his four arms.  Before the transplants he had been a star quarterback as well as a champion boxer.  When he wasn’t gambling or whoring his body out, he enjoyed running illegal underground fight rings.

In the center was the one who I’d really enjoy spending ten minutes alone.  The one that made my fingers itch just thinking about.  Blitz, an all time MVP in almost any pro sport imaginable, had an electric personality to match the lighting themed powers that attracted women from around the globe.  The thing was, Blitz had a penchant for getting a little too rough with the ladies.  He had left a trail of mangled bodies and broken families that would never get retribution from the corrupt justice system that called itself the law.

I hadn’t liked any of them even before they’d left their overpaid careers in sports entertainment to become super heroes. But now I was going to full enjoyment out of giving them what they deserve.

The crowd roared as new numbers spun astronomically on the holos.  Apparently the producers had found their crowd favorite.  Above the numbers sat the smiling veneer of a young woman, the upper part of her face covered with a ridiculous mask that extended out into a five pointed star.  But there was no mistaking that smile.

                What the hell is she doing here?  I hadn’t seen her in the prelims, and though her hair was a different color and her uniform did a good job of hiding her features, I knew exactly who she was.  That smile had been permanently engraved into my brain when I last ran into Cortege.

And now her smile looked like it was directed straight at me, despite the fact that her face was blown up a hundred times on the holo screens.  She gave a cute little curtsey, kicking the streamers that ran from her shoulders out, and the crowd ate it up.  I gritted my teeth, only to keep from outright sneering.

Once the opening ceremony finished, all sixteen contestants, myself included, were taken off the stage and rounded up in a lavishly furnished waiting room.  I stood with my back to the wall, inspecting the other combatants.  Cortege was already lounging on a comfy looking sofa, and a small swarm of the male contestants had gathered around her.  I assessed their physical strength, weapons, armor, modifications, and various other factors in seconds.  Needless to say, I wasn’t impressed.  Some of them were lucky they even made it past the initial auditions.

“Chaos Soldier,” a rough voice said.  It was the firefighter, the same guy that had babbled on about impressing his kid.  The name registered as mine, I was just choosing to ignore it.  I had wanted the name Hateman, but unfortunately it had been taken.

The man must have missed my lack of interest and he shuffled up to me, all the while chomping on a sandwich from the comp table. “Pretty awesome set up they’ve got here, don’t you think?”

I shrugged, and he took it as an invitation to keep talking.  “I’m Aperture, by the way.  Some competition we’ve got, right?” He angled his head towards the group of other contestants.  “You look pretty tough though.  Not soft, like some of the others.  If I was a betting man, I’d put money on you making it far.”

I cracked a smile.  “That’s the plan.”

He eyed the two weapons strapped to my belt – two spikeless maces that were a bit more than they seemed.  “Close range fighter?”

“They don’t allow any guns in here, so yeah.”

“You’re a funny guy, you know that?” Aperture said, chuckling.  “Tell you what – after we get out of here I’ll buy you a beer.”

I was actually starting to warm up to the guy when a voice cut out from the speakers:  “Chaos Soldier, Turbo, report to the staging area for the next event.”

Production assistants ushered me through one of two doors that sat adjacent to one another.  After a short walk down the narrow corridor they left me in a dark and cramped room before scurrying off to prep other contestants.

The cheer of the crowd leaked through the quasi-glass gate before me.  From my position I could see the entirety of the obstacle course – from the platforms over the pit of doom all the way to the sheer cliff climb to the finish.  On the other side of the wall to my right, my opponent would be waiting, plotting out his course of action.

The announcer’s voice blared over the speaker, which was situated a little too close to my head for comfort.  “Our first contestants in the Elimination Race are Chaos Soldier and Turbo.  For those of you just tuning in, Elimination Race is a mad dash to the finish, with the contestants racking up points for time, style, and cleverness.  And as always, if one contestant finishes and the other doesn’t, that contestant gets double the points, so stay glued to the holos because you don’t want to miss this!”

A red number ten appeared on the gate, and quickly made its way backwards through the numbers.  At one, the number turned green, buzzers beat at my ear drums, and the gate recessed into the wall.

In the time it took my foot to land outside the gate, Turbo jumped about twenty yards ahead of me.  It’s a race, so of course I’d end up matched with a speed superpower. He reached the end of the first stretch to the pit, and bounced from platform to platform, quickly clearing the first area.  I was halfway down the first part when he disappeared into the rotating obstacle course.  He could finish the race, and guarantee his progression to the next stage, but I knew that wasn’t going to happen.  He would want the points, and set an ambush up ahead to try and eliminate me.

Knowing this, I took the floating platforms at a leisurely pace.  I wasn’t racking up any speed or style points, but I wasn’t falling into an uncertain abyss either.  I leaped off the final platform and ducked into the rotating obstacle course.  The floor moved beneath me as spikes sprouted through the surrounding surfaces in a timed pattern.  I could walk through the course with my eyes closed, and decided to show off a little for the audience.  I readied both of my maces and charged at the final row of spikes, a spinning grin of shark teeth ready to chew the flesh off my bones.  I propelled myself into a front flip over the spikes.  They extended their reach, trying to take a bite out of me.  To the cameras it would have appeared as if my jump wasn’t high enough to clear the trap.  The crowd held their breath.  The tips neared.  Before they could sink into me, I hit the end of one of the spikes with pinpoint accuracy with the ball of my mace.  I teetered on the tip of the spike until it reached the apex of its journey, then launched myself over the last few yards of death and into the clear.

That’s where Turbo made his move.  It’s what I expected – after all, the course had been designed for easy ambushes right after the spike stage.  Turbo used the large platform to circle wide loops around me.  His speed doubled, then tripled, and the bright colors of his outfit streaked behind him, fighting to catch up.  His leg augments weren’t terrible, but from the looks of it they suffered the same fatal flaw common to cheap speed upgrades.  The purpose of the circle running was meant to confuse the target, and once that was accomplished, Turbo would charge in for a stunning blow.

It was insulting that he would use a tactic like that against me, but then again, he didn’t know who I was.  I let out a sigh and twirled the mace in my hand.  When he thought he had me good and ready, he bolted straight at me.  I spun in the opposite direct of his destination and held the mace straight out to my side.  As predicted, his augments wouldn’t allow him to make tight burst movements, and he had no other choice but to continue forward.  The bar of my mace caught him in the neck, sending him into the air.  I counted nine flips before he disappeared over the platform lip.

The rest of the course was a cake walk – a series of climbing rungs through a ring of fire, a simple tunnel of waves and saw blades, and then a final ascent up the sheer cliff wall.  I hit the buzzer at the peak.  My masked face popped up everywhere, glowing numbers growing underneath it as my scores totaled up.

✓✓✓✓✓✓✓✓

                “Well done,” Aperture said with a smile.  He reached up to the top of his cowl and clicked a visor in place over his eyes.  “Looks like I’m next.  Wish me luck, would ya?”

“Sure thing,” I said, but didn’t wait for him to leave before I made my way over to Cortege.

I shouldered one of the goons out of the way that had attached themselves to her.  She smiled up at me from the comfort of the lounger.

“I want to talk to her.  Alone.”

“Who do you think you are?” the guy I had shoved asked as he sulked straight towards me.  I introduced his face to my elbow, breaking his nose and sending him to the ground.

“I said alone.”  I eyed the rest of the goons.  They tensed up for a moment, eager for a fight, but let it go with the realization that they’ll possibly get a chance at me in the Gauntlet.  That, or they saw in my eyes that I wouldn’t hesitate to snap any one of their necks.  They wandered off in separate directions, and finally Cortege was alone in front of me.

“What are you doing here?” I asked under my breath.

“What do you mean?  I’m taking the test to prove myself.  Just like everyone else here.”

“Don’t drag me along, Cortege.  You must be up to something.”

“Who?” she said with a wry grin.  “I’m Persei.  I think you have the wrong person.”

The knuckles popped in my fist as I squeezed my hand into a ball.  I choked back the urge to snap at her.  I still owed her back from that apartment with the cops, and on top of that she was treating me like a fool.  I just tried to remember a manta I had heard a long time ago, that went along the lines of losing your head was the quickest way to lose your head.

“Fine, you want to play like that, go ahead.  But you better stay the hell out of my way.”

Persei popped up from her position as her name was called over the intercom.  “That’s me.”

The walls projected images of Aperture, arms folded as he stood at the top of the climb.  “I think we may have a new record!” the announcer squealed.

                Well, I’ll be damned.  I hadn’t seen that one coming.  I plunked down onto the lounger Persei had left and leaned back.  I was interested in seeing how she would fare in the Elimination Run.  A shadow fell over me as the group I had run off came back, this time with vengeance twisting their faces.

I shooed them with the sweep of my hand.  “You’re blocking the screens.”

“What are you going to do about it?” one of the goons asked, his voice muffled by a balaclava.  His hand hovered above the handle of a rapier.

“Here’s the thing.  I can either kill you right here, at this very moment. Or I can wait until you get out of here, saying you survive the next round, and hunt you down when you least expect it.  Then I can really take my time.  I’ll even let you chose your fate.  If you want the former, then keep standing exactly where you are.  If not, I suggest you get out of the way.”

All I could see of the balaclava’s face were his eyes, and the muscles surrounding them twitched uncontrollably.  His sword was halfway out when a gloved hand grabbed hold of his shoulder.

“How about we just relax, guys,” Aperture said, only releasing his grip once the man had the sword back in its sheath.

“Sure, we were just getting acquainted,” the man said, straining to sound tough but letting his defeat bleed through.

Aperture smiled.  “No harm done.”

“What a day!” the announcer’s voice screamed, and we all turned to look at the screens.  “Not only has the speed record been broken today, but it’s been broken twice.  And what style!”

I expected as much from Cortege.  The goons filtered out, getting ready for their turn in the run.  Good thing, as I had missed the last run and wouldn’t mind gouging some eyes out over it.

Cortege entered the waiting room to the congratulations of the other contestants.  I didn’t bother with confronting her again. I had the feeling that it would just piss me off more.  Instead I diverted my attention to Aperture.  We had some time to kill, and he had piqued my interests.  If he was good enough to be setting records, even if just temporarily, then there was the possibility he would be good enough to end up on my list some day.

“You said you were a firefighter?  Why’d you decide to take on the Gauntlet?”

“I love what I do,” he said, then cocked his eyebrows. “I take it you don’t want the scripted answer they had me say out there, do you?  But it’s true.  I’m a front line runner – the guy that goes into the burning building, sheetrock and glass falling down around him, and finds the people that can’t make it out on their own.  I enjoy the feeling – the rush – from pulling people out of despair, helping them when they are at their weakest.  When I’m in the middle of it all, I enter a zone.  It’s the same thing that happened out there, on the elim run.  I set my eyes on a goal and don’t let up.  You could say that I just want to take my skills to the next level.”

“Aperture, do you really know what the next level is?”

“I may act simple sometimes, but I’m not dumb.  I know that crime on the surface is at an all time low since the superhero thing started.  But there’s something going on underneath, something we’re not seeing.  I’ve got this feeling that things are worse than ever.”

I knew what he was talking about, the underneath that nobody was seeing.  I knew how it could corrupt a man. I knew how right he was, and now I was wanting even less for him to show up on my list.

“You don’t need to prove yourself.”

“It’s not about proving myself.  It’s about doing what’s right.  I’ve got a family.  That changes the way you look at things, you know?”

I thought of the false memories of a family I never really had.  I remembered the resilient look in the eyes of Big Game’s little girl.  “No.  But I can imagine.”

“Elimination Run complete!”the intercom blurted.  “All contestants report to the Battle Stage in five minutes!”

“The Battle Stage?” Aperture asked.

I shrugged.  “Who knows.”  The Battle Stage was supposed to be the last stage, where the final few contestants who had been lucky enough to make it that far got to test their skills against the big leaguers.  Something was definitely going on, and I wasn’t sure if I liked it.  Don’t kid yourself, you love a good challenge.

All eight of the remaining contestants found their respective spot on the Battle Stage with a couple minutes to spare.  Across from us, the minor leaguers stretched, preparing for the upcoming fight.  Between us lay a myriad of obstacles and platforms to be used for tactical purposes, and in the epicenter of it all a tower rose about halfway up to the encompassing coliseum’s dome.  Perched at the top of that tower waited my three targets.

“We have a special treat for you viewers of The Gauntlet tonight!” the announcer basically screamed into her microphone.  “That’s right, it’s a full on Battle Royale between our contestants and the Gauntlet team themselves!  Contestants are allowed to team up, but remember, there are quadruple points for the last man – or woman – standing.  Are you ready for this?”

I twisted my head to both sides, letting a nice crack resonate from my neck.  Sounds fun.  Cortege/Persei was down the line from me, but even from that position I could see the curl on the edge of her lips.

“Go!” the announcer’s voice coincided with the cry of a buzzer.

All eight contestants ripped out of the starting area and towards the fight zone.  We were spaced far enough apart that we couldn’t reach one another without losing cover.  I rolled into a bunker and put my back against the wall.  Only those that passed directly to my front would see me from that position.  Not only did I have to deal with the other contestants, but an army of minor leaguers would be making their way towards, eager to prove their own worth.  I hoped they would at least pose enough of a distraction before I got to the big three.

I heard screams from halfway across the fighting zone.  The wails of terror had come from male vocal cords, but had taken on a shrill property that made the hair stand up on the back of my neck.  They must have met Cortege.

At that moment a group of three minor leaguers came into my view.  I readied both of my maces and charged.  The closest one’s eyes went wide as he noticed me at the last second.  I bashed my mace into the side of his head before he could react any further.  The other two pulled out quarter staff-like weapons, which splintered in two under the weight of my maces.  Both men went limp and joined the first on the cosmo-turf surfaced field.

I was in mid spin to check my open back when someone yelled my name from the opposite direction.  I was able to catch in my peripheral vision the masked guy I had embarrassed earlier, and his incoming sword that ached to skewer me.  On the other side, Aperture shot into my field of view.  He rushed the masked guy, and held his hand palm out as if he was going to catch the sword.  I was already in the process of rolling for cover when the world was washed white.  My hearing kicked up a notch as I stumbled blindly, and I could hear the muffled screams of the balaclava guy.  I blinked my eyes rapidly, trying to regain my sight.  It came slowly at first, as blurry colors between the large white dots, then steadily started to resemble reality.

Aperture stood over the masked guy, who was now unconscious and thankfully no longer screaming.  I decided it wouldn’t hurt to have Aperture on my side for now, and jumped back to my feet and joined him.

“Some gimmick you have there,” I said, nodding my head towards his hands.  “Now I understand the reason for that visor.”

“Wow, even for only catching the back side of my effect, you recovered pretty fast.”

“You can act amazed later.  There’s still plenty of enemies to take out.”

A voice rang down from the heavens as Blitz’s face invaded the holos surrounding the arena.  “How are you enjoying the special show so far?” he asked the audience.  “Because we’ve got another exciting announcement for you.  It appears we have an appearance from a very elusive villain today!”

I sneered.  Call me a villain, I’ll show you how evil I can be, I thought, then felt stupid when it wasn’t my face that materialized up on the holos.

“That’s right – Cortege,  in the flesh, has honored us with her presence today!”

Aperture was already moving toward the location the earlier screams had come from.  “We have to stop her.”

“You’re right.”  I caught up with him, and lifted one of the maces high above my head.  With pinpoint precision, I brought the butt of the handle down into the nape of his neck.

“Sorry,” I said to his unconscious body as I caught it and propped it against one of the barricades.  He would wake up eventually, with one hell of a headache.  “I can’t let you get killed here.  And do yourself a favor – get out of this stupid business while you still can.”

I sprinted through the obstacles towards the screams and skidded out into a small opening.

“I guess the cat’s out of the bag,” Cortege said with a smile.  The streamers that had been flowing from her shoulders now choked the life out of one of the nameless minor leaguers.

“Also, Chaos Soldier?  Really?” she said as she let the body drop.  “Did you let a five year old come up with that?”

I tried to not let the fact that she was getting to me show, and refrained from taking shots at her costume design.  That last part wasn’t easy.

“You know why I’m here.  You’ve got about ten seconds to explain what you’re doing before the big leagues arrive, and it better be good or I might consider helping them take you down.”

“Whatever.  You do know what happens to most of the decent contestants, don’t you?  This is just another recruiting tool for Arachnos to fill that little army of his.  I’m just here to destroy the soldier factory they’ve set up.”

“Fair enough.  Maybe I won’t have to kill you today.”

“Better look out,” she said.

I barely had time to react to the incoming mini-missle.  The explosion seared my skin and blasted me into obstacle that crumbled under my weight.  I rose to my feet, ready for more missles, and realized I had been thrown a good fifty yards.  Instead, I was in Pommel direct warpath.  He tore through the others regardless of whether they were a contestant or not, and reared his fists back to take me on.

I met the first two punches head on with my maces, but I was unprepared for the next two.  One fist cracked into my ribs, the other pounded the side of my head.  I teetered back as Pommel readied his next attack, and rolled to the side as he released his flurry of blows.  The power of all four punches destroyed the ground where I had been standing.

I wiped at the blood that dripped down my swelling brow.  He was going to make me get serious.  I pressed the hidden button on my maces, and the head of the weapons dropped to the ground as the micro-cable unreeled.  Pommel swung into his next attack, giving me plenty of opportunity to whip the maces around and entangle the cable around each one of his four wrists.

This was a particularly nasty type of mirco-cable.  When supplied with a current, it would instantly revert to a previous state, usually a solid straight line, and become as hard as carbon-steel alloy.  On top of that, the micro pores on it made it act as if it were lined by millions of miniature razors.

The second hidden button did just that.  I pressed it, and the micro-cable instantly responded, disregarding anything in its path – including the muscle, tendon, and bone in Pommel’s wrists.

Pommel cried out in pain as blood gushed from all four of his stumps.  I reeled the mace heads back in and ceased the cries with a quick smash to each side of his skull.

I hobbled back over to an impact crater that had been created by a barrage of mini-missles.  At the center of ground zero stood Cortege, the heel of her boot planted firmly into the back of Grand Slam.  He wasn’t moving, and from the holes in his chest it looked like he wasn’t ever going to move again.

Electricity crackled at the lip of the crater where Blitz waited.  The streamers from Cortege’s shoulders had once resembled the tail of a comet, but were now solidified into slick metal blades that came closer to resembling the legs of a spider. She dashed forward, the streamers slicing through the air almost with a mind of their own.  Blitz darted through the oncoming assault, moving with extreme precision to avoid the sharp edges of the streamers, but no matter how much he dodged he wasn’t able to gain any ground on Cortege.  His suit sparked in a brilliant flash of blue and he was now on the other side of the crater and out of Cortege’s range.  He placed his hands together, forming a circle with his thumbs and index fingers.  The air sizzled around him, and the buzz of energy sent a tingle down my spine. His hands glowed bright white, then discharged a lightning bolt aimed for Cortege.  The crack of air was met by a low rumble as the cosmo-turf ground exploded upward, creating a barrier around Cortege that absorbed the deadly streak.

The barrier crumbled, but Cortege was nowhere in sight.  A pit opened beneath Blitz, a darkness that threatened to swallow him whole, and Cortege shot up from the void.  The teeth of her streamers surrounded Blitz like a starved wolf lunging at its prey.  Blitz’s suit glowed again, and this time the air roared.  I shielded my eyes from the blinding light and was almost blown back by the change in air pressure.  Blitz hovered over Cortege’s body, her costume smoldering as she struggled to gain her bearing.  Cortege’s streamers lashed about but couldn’t locate Blitz as he landed softly next to her.  His hand transformed into a blade of electricity that chirped as he thrust it at Cortege’s neck.

I could have just let him solve a rather nasty problem for me.  I probably should have, but something compelled me to intervene.  The hand stopped just short of Cortege’s carotid artery, with only the diameter of my mace between the two.  I swung with the second mace, and Blitz’s suit glowed as he attempted to counter with the same move he had used to put Cortege down.  The metal head of my mace had been designed with Blitz’s power in mind, and it sapped the energy out of his attack and discharged it right back at him, sending him rolling about a hundred yards away.  Cortege scraped herself up behind me and scowled.

“What, you aren’t going to thank me for saving your life?”

“You just ruined a perfectly good trap.”  She stepped up next to me, and I noticed that her clothes were undamaged, spotless as if just back from the cleaners, and her skin was unscathed.

I groaned.  This is why I don’t do nice things.

“How will you ever forgive me?”

“I’m sure Blitz is pissed after that last hit.  Better be careful.”

From the current that ran through the ground and nipped at my feet, it seemed she was right.  The ground started to shake violently, and Cortege nodded ahead.  Lightning arced in a thousand different directions, splashing off the assortment of obstacles.  Two of the minor leaguers popped up beside Blitz.  The arcs immediately sought them out and fried them where they stood.  They definitely hadn’t been hired for their aptitude.

Blitz emerged from the storm of electricity in a blur, closing the gap between us in an instant.  Cortege went on the defensive, blocking several bolts with her streamers.  I used my mace to absorb the lightning that would have fried me, and went to send the energy back into Blitz’s chest.  Only he wasn’t there anymore.  All the muscles in my back spasmed from the sledgehammer blow to my spine.  I went down to one knee and whipped a mace around just in time to stop the second blow.  The third blow came faster than I could see.

The ground spiked up beneath us, nicking my skin but somehow not skewering me, and Blitz pulled his punch back before he could deal lethal damage.  He pushed out of there as the spikes jutted higher, and Cortege was on him before he could touch the ground.  I supposed we could call ourselves even.

Instinctively I released the lock on the mace heads and let the micro-cable unravel as I rolled away from the fray.  I eyed Blitz as he danced through the gnashing streamers and timed his movements.  I reeled back and cast both mace heads flying, the slack in the micro-cable spiraling behind them as they skimmed through the air towards Blitz.

Without even acknowledging them, Blitz shifted his body so they passed by on both sides.  I had expected that much to happen, if not this fight wouldn’t have been much fun.  The outcome of the fight depended solely on Cortege’s next move.  The mace heads continued to speed on, their target now her head.  Cortege winked at me and they stopped in midair.  The solid orbs melted into large triangular blades, edged with some nasty looking hooks and jags.  She held her hands up and propelled the blades right back to Blitz.  The speed was a multitude higher than from when I had cast them, and they aimed to take out his legs and shoulders.  Blitz launched himself sideways, narrowly passing through the gap without so much as a graze.  The large blades continued to sail on, then under Cortege’s command they doubled back around, swinging wide until they stuck deep into the ground back at her feet.

This was what I had been waiting for.  I braced myself and pressed the buttons on both handles.  The cable instantly jerked tight, and slung me back as it tried to create a straight line to the buried anchors.  At the last moment, Blitz noticed that the cables had been looped around his midsection and were now straightening to meet the anchors as well, ignoring all bone and tissue in their way.

Cortege let out a smile as the entire platform, which had been suspended in the middle of the arena, started to teeter.

“If you wanted to destroy the platform,” I said to Cortege, “I could have just set off my bombs.”

“Fun seeing you again,” she said, and then leaped into the obstacles, which opened up and swallowed her whole.

The ground shifted as the weight of the platform lurched towards one corner of the arena.  The audience screamed in panic as it overshadowed them, and chaos broke out as they shoved their way out of their seats.  I skittered across the face of the platform, using the obstacles to keep myself stable as I lined myself up with one of the exits in the bleachers.  At the moment of impact I launched myself forward and nose dived into the concrete opening, discarding my gear and helmet before landing among the screeching crowd.  I pull the piece of paper out of my pocket, and worked my way marking names off as I navigated through the oblivious crowd.